My Son, My Hero

My son was recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD). I can honestly say that this is not a surprise to me… I was diagnosed with it myself when I was 37 years old. His mind works just like mine.

I think that the hardest part for the parent of a child with ADHD is coming to understand what it is, how it affects the way your child thinks and how he sees the world around him. I count myself lucky that I have some of that insight already, I actually do see the world the way he sees it. My hope is that because we share this commonality I will be able to give him a stronger foundation for his future.

Educate yourself.

It is really easy to look at your son with tears in your eyes and think, “My son is broken, there is something wrong with him and I do not know how to fix it.” The simple fact is there is nothing wrong, nobody is broken and there is nothing to fix, he just thinks and processes information differently than most people. Most likely you will find that with the right guidance your child probably tops the intelligence charts. Doing the research, speaking with doctors and reading the stories of other parents that have been through it all before you is a step in the right direction. Never be ashamed of who your child is and be prepared to defend him to the close minded public and family that refuse to look past the difficult times to see the amazing individual your child truly is.

Try not to focus on the negative.

There are going to be some rough times coming, you will be caught between so many worlds that you wont know whether you are coming or going. Between the dirty, disapproving looks from people when you are out in public, and the family members coming at you from all angles with their opinions about what they would do or how they raised you. You will hear disapproval and see heads shake as you discipline your child the way you know works best for him. You will hear, “What he really needs is a spanking, That’ll straighten him right out.”, And maybe even the saddest part of all…..your son will hear it too. I dread the nights where I have to calm him and reassure him the we will not spank him for actions he cannot control…and neither will anyone else.

See the wonder he sees.

Through all of the rough times I have gotten to really know my son for the wonderful and complex individual that he already is. He has a very sharp mind, and can piece together very complex concepts when he focuses. He amazes me everyday with the questions he asks about things he hears when you think he is in his own world, (What is DNA? What does psychosomatic mean?) . My wife and I have started texting each other because spelling it out is no longer an option. He has very tender moments where all he wants to do is cuddle, when we are walking anywhere and holding his hand he will occasionally kiss our hand and say, “I love you.” He is always so full of energy and loves to run around and play, (which he couldn’t do when he was younger due to some breathing issues) he keeps us on our toes, and has truly shown us how much we really need to get in shape. His fascination with the world around us is heartwarming and his thrill for adventure make him seem fearless. One of his friends asked me, “How come He is not afraid of anything?” on a recent trip to Disney where our son jumped out at the end of the Space Mountain ride and yelled, “Lets do that again!!” ( I used the long line as an excuse but there was no way I was getting on that ride again, It scared me when I was his age and it was everything I remembered 35 years later)

Embrace and support the differences.

Not all children with ADHD are the same, from what I can tell it seems like a lot of times (Not Always) it is coupled with something else like Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Bi – Polar Disorder, or like my son Anxiety. I’m still learning about Anxiety, but I can see where his mind can zoom through the worries throughout the day if he can’t get his thoughts to slow down or gets stuck in a loop. I do it myself sometimes.

My son has these impulses, he just has to reach out and touch stuff, pick it up, examine it and see how it feels. This is all fine unless what he has the impulse to touch is on or part of a classmate, friend or stranger standing in front of you at the grocery store. We continually remind him about personal space and every time we enter a store we say, “Do not touch anything, do not wander more than three feet away. If you want to touch something ask first.” It works fairly well.

Fits and temper tantrums were commonplace in our household and out in public. At home we found that letting it run it’s course was working very well. Our son sees things in black and white, he has a very rigid sense of fairness. If he feels like he has been treated unfairly he will begin to argue and stomp his feet, raising my voice only escalates the tantrum. I have learned to see the signs of an upcoming tantrum and have been able to head them off by having him follow me to a more secluded area, I get down to his height and calmly talk him down. I explain that his decision was not the correct choice for that particular situation and ask him to tell me what he thinks would be the right thing to do. He tends to fidget and look around during all of this and I have found the best way to get all of his attention for that talk is to calmly say, “Look at me” or “Look at my eyes” a few times during the talk. After the talk I ask him to repeat back to me what is the best course of action and then to apologize if he needs. There are times when this does not work in public and he knows that no matter where we are if we can not talk it down, we will leave immediately. Even if I have to carry him out kicking and screaming. When this happens he gets to sit in the car till he calms down.

The public fits of anger used to really get to me, I used to think that people judged me as a parent whenever I carried him out of the store screaming. Then I realized, they were probably thinking the same thing when we stayed in the store. Sometimes it just pays to take the situation out of the public eye until you are able to steel yourself against the stares and the comments of others. It doesn’t really help if you are trying to diffuse the issue when you are getting frustrated , embarrassed and angry yourself….it can lead to some really ugly and regretful situations.

There is a competitive edge to everything he does and it really frustrates him if what he is doing does not come out perfect the first time. We have been showing him that some things just don’t come out the way you think they should all the time and that it is ok to step back and say, “Oh well” and try again. He also doesn’t seem to understand the need for practice or repeating a task once you have already done it correctly the first time. My wife and I try to show him occasions where people are practicing a sport or a skill so they can be better at it.

When he is over stimulated that is when he has the potential to be at his worst. Too much television, massive crowds, lots of noise, other children running around or tense situations. (Good example is a jump house type of place). His impulses get the best of him and he just reacts without thinking “Hey if I do this is it going to hurt myself or someone else?” I have found that it sort of diffuses the situation a little if I call him over to me and ask him how he is doing, if he is having fun and remind him that just because the other kids are doing something doesn’t mean he should. He has his own rules and those are the ones he should follow. (usually this only happens when he looks like things are getting a bit too rough. If he is in a place where he is having a lot of fun and I know he is not going to want to leave I will give him a ten minute warning that we are about to leave (as opposed to a “Hey, we gotta go now” which will surely set him off) and that there should not be any complaints or arguments when the time comes or coming back at a later date might not be so easy. He says “ok daddy” and then asks how many more minutes each time he sees me. It really makes leaving a fun place easier.

School is an area where he excels and falls short at the same time. He is one of the top four students in his kindergarten class in all categories except for handwriting. ( He will be seeing an Occupational Therapist for his grip very soon) He loves the structure and routine of school. He is doing very well when it comes to socializing, making friends and participating in class. However, as expected, he is fidgety and tends to get up a lot during class work, when it is a time that they are expected to be quiet. He makes noise or he seems to grow tired of the task and walks off to fulfill his own agenda. ( which is usually some other part of the school work he enjoys) . When he is told to stay seated or come back to the group, he talks back. He gets warnings and he escalates till he is stomping his feet and yelling back at the teacher, sometimes swinging his arms or hitting the wall. When he gets to this point there is not much that can be done but let it run it’s course (we are trying to learn some new methods that can work for the teacher as well) the teacher has twenty or more other students to worry about so the best course of action is to send him to the office to calm down, which at times is no easy task. He has already been to the office multiple times and was sent home with the dreaded letter just last week. He has been almost suspended from the YMCA twice and we had to get him early because of fighting a couple times as well.

I have found myself talking to him and yelling till I was blue in the face. I have lectured and had him repeat not only what it was that he did that was wrong but what he should have done instead as well, only to find out that he had gotten trouble for the same thing the next day. It can be frustrating to try everything that you know how to do and even some of the things you told yourself you would NEVER do and still fail to get through. Lectures send him into a trance where he looks out the window and hears nothing you say. Taking stuff away from him has no affect on him because he just moves on to something else. Time outs don’t work because he cant sit still long enough to think about why he is in time out. And spanking, Which seems to be everyone’s go to suggestion, does nothing but make things worse. My son is very strong for his size and my wife found that when he is throwing a fit and you smack him on the butt, he smacks back. I have spanked him twice, and although it made him cry and reddened his bottom for a while it had no affect. I asked him afterwards if he learned anything and he said, “No, maybe you should do four spanks instead of three next time.”

What I have seen, lived and read about spanking.

I will say this is my opinion based on what I have seen, experienced, and been told by doctors dealing with ADHD. Spanking a child with ADHD will never accomplish anything as far as I can tell. Because a child with ADHD has a different thought process spanking can do several things . It will never teach the child the lesson you want to teach. Instead it will teach the child that violence is a good outlet for frustration and anger when you have no other way to cope with what you are feeling. Both of the times my son received a spanking he had to be picked up from school early because he became violent with several classmates. On one occasion He pushed a girl down held her face down to the ground and punched her in the back until a teacher pulled him away, because she teased him. I was at my wits end that day. There are two other ways a child with ADHD could react to spanking, fear and hate. The perception that the child is afraid of getting spanked can cover the truth that the child is actually afraid of the person who is giving the spanking, it can trigger anxiety and cause him to lie about even the smallest thing because they fear that anything they do wrong will bring on a spanking. Hatred can also be directed toward the parent giving the spanking as well, to the child it’s reasoning is not logical and seen as unfair. “How is it that you are trying to teach me not to hit people by hitting me?” their mind gets stuck trying to answer the question and they end up stuck and enraged laying on the edge of their bed yelling , “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” because it makes no sense to them.

Know that it is all worth it.

What I can say to you is this, every person in the world is different, there is no real right answer to any of it. I like to think that because everyone is different and my son does not conform to any “normal” standards of what a child should be, then that “difference” makes him normal as well. I embrace his normal and would not have it any other way, I get to learn life through his eyes a way I was never able to do when I was his age. With an understanding of who I am as a father, who he is going to be as a son and who we are all growing to be as a family.

Take the good times and the bad times, even though now some of it leaves tears in my eyes worrying about our future I know I will look back at it all some day thinking the same thing I am thinking now, ” I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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